For veteran coaches or promising young coaches looking to make the jump to head coach, the Los Angeles Chargers head coaching job is being socialized as perhaps the best opportunity in the NFL.
With a young top-10 quarterback in Justin Herbert, a soon-to-be-completed state-of-the-art training facility, and the massive LA market, on the surface level, it seems like paradise for a football coach.
A more critical look at the opportunity might yield some unique challenges that prove otherwise.
Since head coach Brandon Staley and general manager Tom Telesco were fired after losing in one of the franchise’s most embarrassing moments, 63-21, to Las Vegas last week, a constant barrage of well-respected and influential commentators and pundits has oozed about what a great role this is. They most often cite Herbert’s abilities and the aforementioned new practice facility in El Segundo as the top two reasons why the job is so appealing.
Yet, all of these opinions fail to recognize the state of the current Chargers roster, the challenges it faces with establishing a culture based on winning and accountability, and the one thing no GM or coach can ever change: the owners.
Los Angeles Chargers Challenges With Salary Cap
One of the primary concerns for anyone willing to take the job with the Chargers revolves around their salary cap situation.
Per the latest projections by Over The Cap, LA heads into the upcoming season with limited financial flexibility. According to reports, they head into 2024 $40 million over the projected $240.5 million salary cap for next season. After just giving Herbert a five-year, $262.5 million contract, this lack of room for maneuvering poses a significant challenge when it comes to acquiring new talent and retaining key players.
It’s true most of the Chargers’ largest cap hits are with veteran players, who could restructure their deals to provide the team some financial relief. But if an older player retires or isn’t extended, that would accelerate the dead cap hit into 2024, unless it’s after June 1.
Whoever the GM is, they will have to make approximately $41 million in cuts, restructures, or extensions by the start of the league’s new year on March 13. This almost certainly means the Chargers will have to part ways with some of their most talented, albeit aging, veteran players. The new coach will have to skillfully navigate these financial constraints while striving to build a competitive roster.
Los Angeles Chargers Roster Presents Difficulties For New Coach
While the Chargers’ average roster age is just 26, the team is aged at key skill positions where the financial constraints could limit their ability to retain some of those players, meaning a reliance on younger, more inexperienced players in key roles.
Top wide receivers Keenan Allen ($14M), Mike Williams ($20M), and linebacker Khalil Mack ($14M) are on the chopping block to bring the Chargers under the cap Pre-June 1. While Williams is oft-injured and probably a cut casualty anyway, Allen and Mack are two key veterans on the Chargers’ roster.
Replacing them through the draft or in the free-agent market won’t be easy for a new coach. Add in likely cuts Joey Bosa ($14M) and Sebastian Joseph-Day ($7M) and that will get the Chargers where they need to be under the cap. But at what price?
Los Angeles Chargers Culture Needs An Overhaul
Another significant challenge lies in the team’s culture, which is perhaps even more daunting than the roster and financial issues.
Over the years, the Chargers have struggled to establish a winning culture, leading to disappointing season after disappointing season. How many times have we heard about how the Chargers would be competitors for the AFC Championship only to see them underperform and disappoint?
Changing a team’s culture is no easy task. It requires a complete shift in mindset, attitude, and approach both on and off the field. The new head coach can’t just be a good coach, they would need to possess strong leadership skills to successfully implement significant changes.
That would be better suited for a veteran head coach — perhaps someone like current University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
However, the Chargers last hired a veteran NFL head coach in 2007 (while still in San Diego) when they turned to Norv Turner. In recent years, Chargers ownership has been unwilling to pay the money required to get a more proven coach, instead opting for the up-and-coming assistant. This was true of Mike McCoy, Anthony Lynn, and Staley.
Talks of Bill Belichick, Harbaugh, or any of the other high-profile coaching targets seem to ignore this trend. Simply put: the Chargers and owner Dean Spanos do not pay top-dollar for big-name coaches.
Los Angeles Chargers Coach Cannot Change Bad Ownership
Adding to the complexity of the situation is ownership. The Spanos family are known for their frugality when it comes to spending on high-profile coaches. That not only impacts their search for a head coach, but it also impacts how competitive the team can be for top-flight assistant coaches.
Their history clearly indicates that new head coaches may not receive the financial support necessary to attract top coaching talent or make bold moves during free agency. This frugality could severely limit a coach’s ability to execute his vision for the team effectively.
While the Spanos’ decision to move the team to Los Angeles has paid off in a higher franchise value, its value is also lower than the average NFL team.
According to Forbes, the Chargers currently rank 20th in assessed value at $3.875 billion — an increase of $1.795 billion since their move to the nation’s second-largest media market in 2016. That’s an increase of 86 percent, but trails the rest of the NFL’s franchises who grew during the same time at 91 percent.
Sharing a market with the Rams, the Chargers have not generated the revenue they anticipated which has hampered their ability to pay for coaches and players.
Chargers Not As Close As They Appear To Winning
No matter who’s named head coach in the coming months, the job ahead won’t be an easy one, and it won’t be a fast turnaround. In a league where owners and fans have less patience than ever, and where instant results are expected, the job comes with significant challenges not easy to overlook.
With the most important player on the team in place, Herbert, it appears on the surface to be the best opening available this offseason. Considering many of the challenges, it might not be as enticing as it initially appears.
Although having an opportunity to work with a gifted quarterback like Herbert is alluring, there are numerous obstacles to overcome and that can not be ignored.
Any coach thinking about taking the Chargers job must be prepared to navigate through these intricate challenges while understanding achieving success may not come swiftly or easily.
It’s a role that demands more than just coaching skills. It will also require keen leadership abilities, the ability to make the most of what you’re given, and, perhaps most significantly, patience.